By Susan Lillis
Powerful, profound, compelling, challenging are adjectives that describe Chicago’s Premiere Kill Move Paradise. This production by TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Avenue, in the Lakeview neighborhood running from February 20-April 5 2020 is in perfect alignment with its mantra: Exploring today’s issues through the lens of the past. Entering the charming Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ one is immediately confronted with a wall honoring 137 names ripped from the recent headlines of senseless killings.
James Ijames, an actor, professor and playwright, impetus for creating this play was the 2015, June 17, Charleston South Carolina mass shooting by an avowed White Supremacist during an Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal bible study. There were nine congregants killed and 3 more injured after they invited this shooter to participate in their bible study. Driven by anger and frustration over many more news stories James Ijames captures the experiences of senseless violence inflicted on Black Men today in this experiential drama. His quest is for hope and understanding.
Director, TimeLine Company Member and fellow actor, Wardell Julius Clark, espouses a belief in the power of art as a call to action for social justice, awareness, and compassion. This raw stripped-down innovative drama is all that and more, and his Main Stage directorial debut.
Kai A. Ealy (Isa) meaning God is salvation. He is the first actor to tumble on stage in a death throe. His eyes are both haunting and mesmerizing. A gifted performer, Isa, totally engages the audience with his comic banter. This 99-seat theater keeps you so close to the action that you are comfortable interacting with the actors.
The other actors appear one at a time after a teletype printer clicks on first announcing the name of the new arrival to this captured state. Charles Andrew Gardner (Daz), Cage Sebastian Pierre, (Grif), and Trent Davis (Tiny) all arrive in this purgatory state attempting to remember why they are in limbo and how they were suddenly torn from their lives.
They are a terrifically talented ensemble who demonstrate their physical prowess in movements that express raw rage, sorrow, and suffering. Ironically, these jumbled emotions are juxtaposed against moments of joy and celebratory dance emphasizing the men’s humanity. This impactful gut-wrenching drama deals with racial hostility, sacrifice, expiation, martyrdom with revelatory questions directed at themselves and the audience “witnesses”.
The production team does a superb job staging this New York Times Critic’s Pick play. Ryan Emens, (Scenic Designer) Izumi Inaba, (Costume Designer) Jason Lynch, (Lighting Designer) Jeffrey Levin, (Sound Designer) Mealah Heidenreich, (Properties Designer) and Rachel Flesher (Intimacy and Violence Director) keep this expressionistic art piece relevant, contemporary, and humorous. The running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.
One of the most powerful moments is when Trent Davis (Tiny) playing a young boy shot dead while holding a toy gun repeats “Am I scary.” Timeline is a thinking person’s theatre that will have you wrestling with how we perceive our world long after the close of this transformative piece.
Performances run through April 5, 2020 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago. For tickets and information, visit timelinetheatre or call the TimeLine Box Office at (773) 281-8463 x6.